Get on the bus and prepare to take in the adult equivalent of a school field trip.
In this case, however, instead of visiting museums or galleries, you’ll be spending four to six hours touring some of the fine local breweries that Central Florida has to offer.
Born from their passion for craft beer, a trio of friends — Kevin Jones, Ivan Rios and Brian Quain — has brought Hop On! brew tours to Winter Park and the surrounding area as a means to introduce people to brewers and their breweries.
Together, the partners operate the Winter Park-based Deez Hops LLC. The initial inspiration to start the brew tours, aside from simply loving good beer, came from Quain and the podcast he started about seven months ago. With more than 10,000 listeners, ‘What Ales Ya?’ has become an incredibly popular podcast for Quain — who travels throughout Florida to tell stories about local craft brewers.
“He goes and interviews the brewers and the owners — get’s the back story, ‘Why Florida? Why beer? What got you involved?’” Jones said. “You get to know these guys on a basic level; so when you’re there drinking their beer, it makes it mean more. You have this understanding of why did these guys make the beer in the first place, and what is the story behind the name and all that kind of stuff.”
Two months after the launch of the podcast in January, the idea for Hop On! had developed into a concrete concept for the trio and was immediately put into motion.
Most big cities with a thriving brewery scene have brew tours set up, and that includes nearby spots such as Tampa, Jones said. But Orlando didn’t.
The lack of any tours in and around the Orlando area came as both a surprise for the trio and a great opportunity.
“By the end of 2017, there’s going to be upwards of 25 to 28 breweries open in the Central Florida area, and nobody is doing tours yet,” Jones said. “So for us, it was a business opportunity, but it was also just an opportunity for us to do something that we would like to participate in. It’s something that we already enjoy, and now we can share that passion that we have for local craft beer.”
The craft-beer scene in Florida has exploded in the last decade. This year, Florida ranks ninth in most breweries, with 212 total. That is the highest total in the Southeast, giving Florida the edge over North Carolina, which has 205 breweries.
All the breweries that Hop On! will visit are a part of the Central Florida Ale Trail — a collaboration of 17 breweries throughout the area working together to promote the local beer scene.
Hop On! will start with one bus that seats 12 to 14 passengers, although the group has partnered with a local company to offer larger buses for corporate events.
There are currently three tours set up by Hop On!, all of which will start at the group’s base of operations at Broken Cauldron Brewery & Taproom in Orlando, and each will include different perks.
The Crowler Tour runs Monday through Wednesday, and over the span of four-hours visitors will tour three different breweries — spending 45 minutes at each. Much like the Crowler, the Growler Tour is a four-hour tour of three different breweries, but the extra perk covered by the added cost is a beer flight from each brewery along with trivia and information on breweries during the ride.
The What Ales Ya Signature Tour is, as the Hop On! website describes, is the “pièce de résistance.” Led by Quain, it is a six-hour, in-depth journey during which customers explore five breweries that have been featured on the podcast.
Guests will learn behind-the-scenes information from the brewers themselves, enjoy beer samples put together by the brewers and receive a commemorative What Ales Ya/Hop On! taster.
“This is a more personal tour, because this is the owner of the brewery saying, ‘Hey, before you guys leave, this is the beer you need to try — this is the one that really makes me proud,’” Jones said. “So rather than showing up and taking a guess, you’re going to hear from the horse’s mouth.”
Hop On! has also partnered with Orlando City Soccer Club to offer special beer/ticket packages. Along with a ticket to the game, the deal also includes a T-shirt and a beer at multiple breweries before the game. The game-day tours will begin at Dead Lizard Brewing in Orlando.
The tours represent the realization of a dream for Jones, Rios and Quain.
“It’s kind of surreal to be honest — to see something go from idea to reality as quickly as this has, it has been a whirlwind,” Jones said. “But at the same time, it makes sense. We have done the leg work, we’ve built the relationships, and we’ve put in the time for it. I couldn’t be more excited.”